Machias Seal Island – An Ongoing Border Dispute Between the United States and Canada

I have mentioned Machias Seal Island before in my articles here, here, here, and here.

Well writer John Farrier published on Neatorama on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 a great article about how MAJOR/insignificant this dispute really is!

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(Maps: Google Maps)

This is Machias Seal Island, a 20-acre island in the Bay of Fundy.

You can’t see it? Let’s zoom in.

And from there the story continues! Such an insignificant island for such a big debate. That is government for you. Naturally it belongs to Canada! . . . more

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Hmm. That doesn’t help much. Let’s zoom in some more.
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There it is! It’s a speck of land that barely appears on the map.

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(Photo: Albnd)

You can see the lighthouse in the photo above. The island is inhabited by 2 human lighthouse keepers, a few seals…

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(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

…and lots and lots of puffins.

The ownership of Machias Seal Island is disputed by the United States and Canada. Canada is in physical possession of it, but the United States has not formally dropped its claim to the island.

I’ve previously written several posts about the development of the US-Canadian border, whichincludes weird exclaves. Ambiguity about the border even led to the creation of 2 short-lived nations.

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(Painting by Benjamin West of the American delegation at the Treaty of Paris)

Although the United States and Canada now maintain a long, peaceful border, the placement of that border has been in doubt since the Treaty of Paris (1783) in which Britain recognized the United States as an independent nation. That treaty attempted to draw borders over unexplored lands. The authors did the best that they could with their knowledge of geography. But, alas, one of the descriptions for the border between Maine and maritime Canada was problematic. The treaty says that US territory includes:

all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, and lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one Part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.

I’ve bolded the parts of the text that are the source for the Machias Seal Island dispute.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the eastern border of Maine was of great concern to the British. Some British officials coveted what Americans saw as their territory, and vice versa. Control of the Bay of Fundy was of great importance to British commissioners at the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812.

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(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

Now back to Machias Seal Island. The American argument is that it lies within 20 leagues (approximately 69 miles) of the coast of the United States.

The Canadian argument is that a land grant that pre-exists the Treaty of Paris defines the island as part of Nova Scotia. It built and has operated a lighthouse on the island since 1832.

Occasionally fishermen from the 2 nations have gotten into scraps about its ownership. Some Canadian citizens have staked mining claims to the island as a means of asserting Canadian sovereignty. The State of Maine has included the island on its maps of electoral districts.

But if possession is indeed 9/10ths of the law, then Machias Seal Island is Canadian. The United States has chosen not to press the issue.

Sources:
Clark, Edie. “Barna Norton Invades Canada.” Yankee 62.6 (1998): 48. Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Guo, Rongxing. Territorial Disputes and Resource Management: A Sourcebook. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2007. Web. Google Books. 22 Apr. 2014.

Kelly, Stephen R. “Good Neighbors, Bad Border.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. Nov 27 2012. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2014 .

RELATED NEATORAMA POSTS

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Reprint – NO, NOT Scarborough Fair but Scarborough Shoals.

 On April 19, 2012 I wrote an article about using The Lighthouse as a Sovereignty Symbol to mark a nations claims to disputed lands. One of the disputed lands was the Scarborough Shoals of my new homeland of the Philippines, just off the central west coast  of the largest island Luzon where I am living.

The story below is from the military analysis blog by albert e. and gives a better perspective on the matter, plus a bit of historical information to clarify the whos and whys. A nice reference to a Tom Clancy novel as well.

Updates to this conflict are posted when available in the 

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sunday, july 15, 2012

Scarborough Fair?
This is coolbert:

NO, NOT Scarborough Fair but Scarborough Shoals.

Spratly Islands, South China Sea, and now Scarborough.

That latest incident involving “land” and territorial claims in the South China Sea, on this particular occasion just recently, Filipino and Chinese warships [patrol craft] facing off – – the punador [point of honor] being the Scarborough Shoals.

NOT even islands or a land mass but reefs and chunks and bits of rock only visible at low tide off the coast of Luzon, within the limits of what the Filipino claims as an Economic Exclusion Zone [EEZ] but is also claimed by China.

“on April 11, 2012, the Philippine navy stopped and boarded eight Chinese fishing vessels in the shoals. In order to demonstrate that the Chinese fishermen had not been innocently deep-sea fishing in the area, the navy took pictures of one of the crews standing on a pile of giant clams presumably taken from the shoal.”

Chinese fishing vessels confronted by the Philippine Navy, further confrontation occurring with the intervention of Chinese naval forces!!

“Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef [more correctly described as a group of rocks or very small islands plus reefs in an atoll shape], rather than as a shoal, is located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon Island of the Philippines in the South China Sea” Continue reading

The Lighthouse as a Sovereignty Symbol

Philippine flag over Pantag Shoal

In the early days of exploration a flag of ownership was placed upon new-found-lands to claim ownership, even though on the other side of the island, or bay there may have been another flag from a different country.

One problem with a flag – it doesn’t last very long.

But build a lighthouse and claim ownership and that light is visible to all peoples for years into the future. Build it high enough and it is visible for 360 degrees. Put some men on it and it becomes your property. Hmmm!

A country's exclusive economic zone - Wiki

Right now in the news there are two island disputes in the South China Sea area that involve China and the Philippines – a stand-off over the Panatag Shoal (Huangyan Island; aka Scarborough Shoal) where China is contesting the Philippines’ internationally recognised exclusive economic zone, and China and Japan – an age-old dispute  surrounding the group of islands called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese.

Continue reading